Advil is her friend, her buddy, her teammate.
They hang out together from time to time when Caroline Biltz plays volleyball.
She plays every day.
And she smiles when she plays. My, oh my, how she smiles.
You would never know she has to deal with Osgood-Schlatter disease, a knee condition that a lot of youngsters and young adults have as they grow. It’s an inflammation just below the knee at the shinbone where the patella and tibia are attached.
And sometimes it hurts a lot.
“Yeah, it hurts,’’ said Caroline, who is 14. “It does quite a bit. The more I do the more it hurts, and whenever I land it hurts pretty bad. But I just don’t acknowledge it. I try to ignore it.’’
That’s Caroline Biltz — tough and determined.
She has just learned to play through it, even those bitter times when she lands on her knee and the pain is unbearable. She’ll hit the floor, and the tears will come.
“Yeah, I just wipe them a way,’’ she said. “I really love volleyball.’’
The painful irony is that Caroline’s condition is because she grew too fast, and the irony is now that she is becoming older she is growing even faster on the volleyball court.
Her latest growth spurt (the one on the court) came recently when she and her teammates from a club team in Waco finished third in the nation in a national tournament at the Dallas Convention Center, where club teams from around the nation showed up.
Waco lost twice, won eight times, and walked away with third place in the 14-and-under division. Caroline, the team’s outside hitter, was a big part of the success, and it’s still hard to imagine how Carolinas, who is 5-6, ended up as one of the most competitive hitters in her age group. Most of the big hitters in the tournament were 5-10, 5-11 and 6-feet tall or taller.
It’s her work ethic,’’ said Navarro College coach Kasey McBrearty, who has been Caroline’s private coach giving her lessons for the past year. “Hard work pays off, Every coach wants kids as committed as Caroline.’’
McBrearty said when Caroline finished high school that she won’t be recruiting her to play at Navarro.
“I’m not recruiting her,’’ she said. “She will be recruited by much bigger schools. It will be up to Caroline (if she ends up at a Division I school) or if she wants to go to a smaller college.’’
McBrearty said Caroline will be a defensive player in college, but for now the 5-6 hitter still loves going to the net and getting the kill. She has a 22-inch vertical leap and proved herself this year in Waco, where they moved her from the right side to the left outside hitter where she could do the most damage.
Caroline is the only member of the Waco club from outside the Waco area, and her commitment is pretty easy to measure when you consider she makes the two-and-a-half hour round trip twice a week to Waco to practice, and then practices another two-and-a-half hours when she gets there.
Her mother, Susan, and father, John, take turns driving her.
It never affected her academics. Caroline is a straight A student, and always found a way to juggle school, family and volleyball.
A lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a couple of orchards of green apples have been eaten along the way. There’s not a lot of time for dinner when you send five hours committed to volleyball.
It wasn’t always that way.
Caroline is one of those kids who just loves sports.
“I played soccer and softball, basketball and I was in gymnastics,’’ she said. “I didn’t play volleyball until I was in sixth grade. I just love it. When I was in seventh grade I decided to try club volleyball.’’
It just makes sense. Caroline’s sister, Briana plays for Corsicana High. She will be one of the senior leaders of this year’s team.
“When they were younger Briana would be playing volleyball and Caroline would be off to the side bouncing the ball,’’ Susan Biltz said. “She always loved sports. She would run so hard playing soccer that she would throw up. Then she would go back on the field and run some more.’’
Then there is that smile.
It’s electric and non-stop.
“When she was at nationals they were saying she is the spark of the team,’’ McBrearty said. “She is always smiling. She is always having fun playing volleyball. She exudes what this game should look like and shows how much she loves this sport. She plays with fire.’’
The national tournament helped Caroline in countless ways.
“We saw so many college coaches there,’’ she said. “And we got to meet and have our picture taken with the Olympic coach. It was a great experience seeing teams from other states and playing with that kind of competition. I think I’ve gotten a lot better. I took a lot of lessons and worked hard to prepare for the nationals. It was a great experience.’’